Author’s second eland on the third day – a nice bull, perhaps 12 years old, with a good facial ruff – and a mysterious second hole in front of the left hip, dripping fluid. Nice bases and horn spread.

After nearly two dozen ventures into six African countries since 1994, my undisputed choice of outfitter for a plains-game hunt would be Botswana’s Nkwe Safaris with Jaco Visser.

Ever had one of those international hunts where everything was 100%? I don’t mean you had a good or excellent hunt but a 100% hunt. Great hunts can, and do, have a few cock-ups. Lord knows, I’ve had my share of good hunts with one or more negative aspects: delayed flights, lost baggage, misdirected trophy shipments, animals that are below expectations, incompetent PH, or where the hunter is in a ‘production line’ of clients. Included in the list is a company or PH skilled in the art of separating the client from his money with, among other ills, endless hints for tips and pressure to shoot animals not sought or immature males.

Jaco Visser’s Nkwe Safaris (nkwe is ‘leopard’ in the Setswana language) is co-owned by Jaco and his cousin, Wiehad van der Merwe. Wiehad is the owner of the family concessions, while Jaco is the PH and outfitter who conducts the hunts. It was my absolute pleasure to be hosted by Jaco for a hunt of eight days after booking with Matthew Egan. I bought a package of six animals (kudu, eland, blue wildebeest, impala, steenbok, warthog) and added two days for an additional four animals (red hartebeest, waterbuck, gemsbok, springbok).
Jaco, 40, has been a PH for 21 years, with the last three hunting his own concessions – four are family holdings with two additional concessions where he has the exclusive hunting rights – totalling 80 000 acres of free-ranging habitat for animals native to the Kalahari. The concessions in the Kalahari are in north Botswana outside the town of Ghanzi, and the vegetation is northern bushveld. It is a three-hour drive from Maun. To the south is the sand desert that most of us associate with the Kalahari. Some of Jaco’s family land was not hunted until three years ago and the animal populations are remarkable – so much so that for some species, such as eland, a second animal can be offered to the hunter at half price! (More about this later.) And the trophy quality (and quantity) is amazing for free-ranging animals.
Accompanying Jaco and me on the hunt were Ampie (a 21-year-old first-year apprentice PH) and two Bushmen: Tex, the tracker (this guy can track a fish through water) and Danco, the driver. Also of note was the cook, Godfried, from Zimbabwe, whose meals are 5-star! As noted in the title, Douglas Jardine’s .450-400 3-inch Harrison and Hussey box lock ejector was my rifle of choice, topped with a Swarovski 1.25-4x telescopic sight with claw mounts.
The first day of the hunt consisted of a drive, seeing much of the land, with short walks to get close to a potential trophy. The early morning temperatures hover around 0°C, with day-time highs hitting 33°C after the noon hour. Animals seen on the first day were giraffe, kudu, blue wildebeest, red hartebeest, eland, warthog, steenbok, duiker, zebra, gemsbok, jackal, cheetah and impala. Later in the day we spotted a good warthog coming to drink, and he was felled with one shot from the .450-400 at 68 yards. (Since I use only double rifles, a range finder is not necessary but the Leica Geovid 10×42 is fun to use with the range-finder option.)
The second day was when the fun began. We were out at 07h00 to look for eland tracks, which we crossed about 45 minutes later, and we were off for a walk. After 90 minutes of tracking, we were getting close. When close to an animal, I do three things: I never use my binocs as I may lose precious seconds putting them away and may miss a quick shot; I take the rifle off of my shoulder and perhaps remove the sling if time allows; and I also never look for the animal. It’s my PH’s job to do that. Rather, I look only at where I am stepping, making sure I step in the PH’s footprints for absolute silence.
After Jaco had set up the sticks, I settled the rifle on them and slid the automatic safety to off. Jaco was sighting on an eland bull with his Swarovski 10x30s and I did the same through my ‘scope. Just as I was ready to fire, the bull, which was side-on to us, turned away with his head down to graze. He was an excellent bull and Jaco said: “Hit ‘em in the ass.” I sighted on the bull’s left hip and fired. He took off but when we arrived at the spot, 60 yards away, there was blood and the eland was dragging his leg. With his hip broken, he was only able to move a few yards before coming to a stop. A second shot in the shoulder brought him down. What a bull! 37–38″, about 6 years old – a young but fully mature bull.

Cal’s first eland, a younger male. The bases are slightly smaller and horns not as wide.

The truck was called to load the eland for processing back at the camp. After photos were taken, we walked back to the Land Cruiser. Enjoying a cool drink at the bakkie, Jaco noticed a herd of eland bulls on the opposite side of the dirt road. It was then that he mentioned he had so many eland that I could take a second bull at half of the regular trophy fee, or $800. Does a bear …? I immediately said, “Yes!” and we began a second stalk. Half-an-hour later we came upon them feeding in the brush and totally unaware of our presence. A good bull was side-on to us, ranged at 80 yards, and I fired at Jaco’s thumbs up. (Jaco knew in advance what I wanted. I had told him I would not question the quarry ‒ a thumbs-up meant that I should shoot). The eland jumped and ran and we followed. He only went 20 yards and fell. The Woodleigh 400 gr soft-nose had taken him just behind the left shoulder, passing through the right shoulder, and resting just under the hide. What a (second) bull! This one was 12 years old, ruffed face, and thicker horns at 38 inches.
The downed bull was dead but he was leaking foul-smelling fluid from the side that was on the ground. As we were setting him up for photos, we noticed something odd. While the bullet entrance hole was just behind the left shoulder, the bull had a 1-inch hole in his gut and was leaking bile or intestinal fluid. Where did this come from? He did not go down on a stick that could have caused the puncture. Back-tracking him we found he was not leaking fluid before I shot him. The only possible answer was that, as he ran off, another bull gored him. Why? Only God knows. Well, it will forever remain a mystery to us. But the bottom line was that by 10h00 I had two amazing eland bulls down – both fully-grown, with one being younger and the other and old bull. I mentioned to Jaco he was going to have to work like hell the following day to top this achievement!

The single bullet hole from the .450-400 is behind the shoulder. The mysterious hole to the right can only be from a fight with another male. The animal didn’t fall on any sticks and back-tracking to before the shot was made, we didn’t find any fluid on the ground.

Day three didn’t produce any blood – but it could have. Kudu was on the menu and we saw plenty. There were eight bulls in the 50–52″ range but I wanted 55″ or above, as I didn’t want to duplicate any of the three I had taken on previous safaris. It was a good day, but a hot day seeing game, stalking, sitting, and driving. Godfried made pizza for dinner and I ate so much I was not sure I could manage a hunt the next day!
Day four. Well, what can I write except that Jaco certainly topped the eland bull hunt of the second day! Kudu and gemsbok were on the ticket but anything I wanted could present itself. We drove for a bit over an hour when Jaco spotted gemsbok horns shining in the early sunlight far away. Down on the ground we could not see above the brush to spot most game, so driving was the order of the day, with Danco at the wheel and the rest of us on the bench seats elevated in the loadbox.
Eventually we got down and started walking. Less than a kilometre further the herd spotted us and ran at full speed for the next zip code. They were all safe except for the herd bull. He stopped to look at us and as soon as Jaco put up the sticks, I knew it was time. Both bulls and cows are trophies but this one was a bull, standing side-on to look at us at a ranged 122 yards. He fell to the shot. When we reached him, he was kicking a bit and, as gemsbok have a deadly habit of sweeping their sharp horns when down, I put in a finishing shot into the chest. He was a magnificent bull at 37″ with thick bases.

Cal and Jaco Visser with Cal’s first gemsbok.

After gutting and loading him on the bakkie, we set off for the camp. Hardly a mile further we saw two kudu bulls. One was 52″, which I didn’t jump at but his partner caused my heart to beat rapidly. He was 55+” but one horn was broken off half-way. My first kudu, from southeast Zimbabwe in 1997, had a broken horn and my interest was sparked. Jaco mentioned he was not a trophy and that I could shoot him for a cull fee of $300. We set off, thorns scratching my legs in the hot sun. After an hour of following him, I realised it was not to be. I was exhausted by now, so it was off to a shaded hide (blind) at a waterhole for a rest and lunch.
At half-one we were off again, Jaco saying he doubted we would see old one-horn again. However, there he was and we were tracking him again in the heat of the day! And, again, it was not to be. He spotted us and ran – and I was dying in the 33°C temperature! By now a second vehicle had picked up the gemsbok and we were off to hunt.
I was getting very tired in the heat, put on sunblock and hoped silently we would not spot any more animals. However, sure enough, on a large flat plain with little vegetation, four gemsbok were spotted and Jaco offered me another. This time I wanted a cow, hopefully longer than the bull, and we set off. We could not get close enough for a shot so it was back to the truck after another gruelling 45 minutes in the heat.
We drove off and after a few kilometres Jaco spotted a big bull far in the distance, feeding. Off we went again for a 40-minute walk. I was dying by now! The wind was with us. We lined up behind a large bush and walked in slowly, stepped aside and set up the sticks. The bull was ranged at 149 yards. I fired and the bull went down. Because of my fatigue, I shot very high and broke the spine at the shoulder. We closed to 100 yards and I fired a second shot, which was also high in the shoulder. The shot was not fatal, so another was required for the quietus.
Upon examination we found that it was not a bull but a cow with very thick bases, and measuring 39” for the longest horn. And an old cow it was. Only three teeth remained in her mouth, all in the bottom front, and her legs were hairless and covered with scabby skin. She was at the end of her life – and so was I in the heat!

The second gemsbok was thought to be a male due to the thickness of the horn bases, but proved to be a very old female.

I told Jaco I was losing my energy and did not want to walk any more. He suggested we go to the hide where we had had lunch and that I shoot the first animal that came in to drink for camp meat, as the two eland and the gemsbok were going to be sold to the butchery in Ghanzi. On the way to the vehicle, five kudu bulls ran past us. Jaco estimated the second in line at 58″. They were running at full speed – so not a chance!  At the hide, nothing at all came to drink except a jackal, so we drove home in the cool of the last light.
Hardly a mile further we spotted a gemsbok 120 yards ahead of the car. He was in the brush at the side of the road and in the shadows. He was nothing special but I was offered the shot for camp meat for the staff – no charge and no trophy. We left the vehicle and stepped off the dirt road to find that the gemsbok had also moved off the road’s edge. We continued to the right through the brush into a clearing. It was absolutely the last light and I took aim on the animal’s shoulder. We could not see the horns as there was so little light remaining – in five minutes it would have been too dark to shoot. I fired the shot, which took the gemsbok on the shoulder. The animal jumped back towards the road and fell. As we came up to him, I saw he was kicking and breathing his last.
It was dark now and Jaco and his assistant, Ampie, as well as the tracker and driver, could not believe their eyes. Before them was the mother of all gemsbok bulls: 40½”, thick bases, wide tips, and a curve-back like the scimitar-horned oryx of Sudan. Pictures were taken with a flash. The centre of the Milky Way was clear as could be and a large shooting star flashed in the sky. God’s creation is truly amazing.
At the camp we had a late dinner, followed by a shower and bed. The next day we would look for a kudu and impala, and maybe a blue wildebeest to complete the package I had purchased. If the hunt had ended then I would have been a 100% satisfied – but there were still four hunting days left of my eight-day hunt.
The morning of the fifth day was spent looking for kudu bulls. Many were seen. In fact, by the day’s end Jaco had counted an even 30 bulls, with half of that number at 50″ or better. I was still holding out for 55+”! After lunch and a short rest, I took a good impala ram at 60 yards. The last hour of light we spent sitting at a pan. A male wildebeest came in to drink. The ground was very rocky and Jaco and Ampie could hear him coming in as he stumbled on the loose stones. I was ready and the bull fell instantly with a low shoulder shot – the end to a perfect day in paradise.

The trophy of a lifetime! Shot at last light for camp meat, this magnificent gemsbok was a gift to the author from Jaco. Hunting does not get any better, nor does the integrity of the PH.

A nice impala

I should note here that I was showing a pattern of shooting high on shots where the animal saw me and I had to shoot quickly. On shots where the animal was unaware of my presence, my shots were lower on the shoulder, where they should be. The impala was high. On the wildebeest I was conscious of this and aimed low and the death was instantaneous. I will remember this when I see my 60″ kudu bull.

This old male wildebeest was heard coming through the bush as he was stumbling on loose rocks.
A low shoulder shot dropped him instantly.

The following day the wind was blowing hard and from every direction, so we drove a few miles and then walked a bit. Close to where we planned to stop, a group of kudu cows were milling around in an open area. We made the stalk, hoping to see a good bull. After 15–20 minutes the apprentice PH, Ampie, saw some horns above the brush, perhaps 70–80 yards away. We moved in close with the wind in our favour but that could change at any second. The kudu were unaware of our presence. We moved around a large bush and saw the bull, facing away, at less than 30 yards. A silent thumbs-up from Jaco told me the bull was a taker. My footing was not good for a steady shot and I missed completely with the left barrel. An immediate right-barrel shot followed. The bull was hit behind the right shoulder, and off he ran. We listened and Tex, the tracker, pointed to the ground – meaning the bull was down. After 50 yards through the thickest thorn on the continent we found the bull. He had died of a lung shot.
His curls were tight and to me he looked short, so I estimated him to be 48″. Jaco said more, but less than 50″. Even though I wanted 55″, there was no disappointment as every aspect of the hunt was top notch. As Jaco taped the horn, he smiled the smile of a prankster – it measured 54½”! To quote Douglas Jardine: “The little bastard!”

A very nice kudu bull. My PH thought it humorous to tell me it would measure below 50″ – a good thing he’s a professional hunter as he won’t make much of a living as a stand-up comic!

The rest of the day was taken up with an early lunch, visiting the skinning area, photographing the camp and a siesta. We would go to town and I would treat Jaco and his family to dinner.
Two more days remained but I wanted to shoot only a huge warthog and the one-horn kudu of the previous day. I would pass on steenbok as I’ve never been interested in the smaller antelope. Also, I would save the waterbuck and hartebeest for another hunt, as I have already taken excellent specimens.
We saw more kudu on the seventh day but none equal to the one I had shot previously. Two warthogs fell to the .450-400 – one at a pan and the other on a walk while looking for the magic 60″ kudu bull. Truthfully, if any place in Southern Africa has free-ranging kudu at 60″, it has to be this place. We saw more than 40 bulls in last three days, all over 50″. The game here is amazing! Jaco’s best trophies from this area are: eland, 45½”; kudu, 66″; gemsbok, 47″; warthog, 17″; impala, 29½”; waterbuck, 33″; blue wildebeest, 32″. All free-ranging animals, natural to the Kalahari area. Need I say more?
Day eight and we could not find the magic and elusive 60″ kudu, so it was home early to pack and eat and prepare for the departure to Maun the following day. ASM

Cal’s three Botswana warthogs. Here is the boar taken on the first day with learner PH, Ampie. A nice trophy male with Douglas Jardine’s rifle held proudly. The last photo shows Cal with the old pig taken on the last day.

A brief note about Botswana:

Like South Africa and the Zimbabwe I love, Botswana is truly an amazing place to hunt / visit. It’s clean (no trash next to the roads), the people are friendly, the highways are tarred and free of potholes, the population does not live behind fences and gates, and the country is very stable both financially and politically.
When elephant hunting was banned in 2014, many (if not most) of us in the States believed all hunting was banned. Not so! Plains-game hunting still was and is alive and well in Botswana, as you can see from my report and photos. My prediction is Botswana will be the plains-game hunt of choice if the farm violence in South Africa continues, and if the financial and political situation remains as it is in Zimbabwe.

A wonderful hunt came to a close and it was off to Zimbabwe for two weeks to vacation with friends in Harare, Bulawayo and Kariba. I will forever remember my two 100% perfect Africa hunts of 2019.